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Award, accolade and much more ...

"Virumaandi" has won the Best Asian Film Award at the International film festival in South Korea. Kamal Hassan shares his elation in a conversation with MALATHI RANGARAJAN.

"Virumaandi" ... a project that proved commercially viable and creatively satisfying to Kamal.

``I SEE it as a kind of peer acceptance and that makes the award even more invaluable to me... ,'' smiles a happy Kamal Hassan. The actor is just back from South Korea with the Asian Award for his Tamil magnum opus, "Virumaandi." And his joy is manifold because the members of the European jury that selected it as the best film from Asia at the eighth Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) (a part of European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation — EFFFF) are eminent filmmakers themselves.

``The whole thing came as a surprise to me. I had gone to the fest as an invitee. `Virumaandi' was not an entry at the competition level and I had no inkling of the honour. There I was seated in the audience, waiting to put my hands together for the winner when my name was announced. I was confused because I was not on the stage with the other nominees ... caught unawares, I did not even have a prepared text to thank the jury for the recognition,'' laughs Kamal.

This year PiFan, the oldest supporting member of EFFFF, suggested the institution of a new award for the Best Asian Film, to be chosen by a European jury. As Asian cinema is of great importance to film festivals affiliated with EFFFF, the Federation gladly accepted the proposal.

Even otherwise, when talking of fantastic films in the real sense of the term, it is only imperative that our films be considered. Thus the first Asian Award was created in the name of the French experimenter with motion pictures, Georges Melies, and it is a matter of cheer that it has gone to an Indian film.

The recognition should come as a fillip to films made here and it is to the jury's credit that it has gone to a much-deserving actor and technician on this side of the globe.

Why "Virumaandi" ...

"The citation crisply mentions `Virumaandi's scoring points," says Kamal as he recalls the contents.

It describes the film as one ``that successfully manages to combine social and political drama, romance, humour, musical and spectacular action in one story of epic proportions ... ''

It further states: ``all the more impressive is the fact that it has been written, produced and directed by one man who also plays the lead role... ''

The actor-director with Pasupathi in his magnum opus.

Jan Doense, a Swedish filmmaker of repute and a member of the jury, gave away the award. (The other member was well-known German filmmaker Olivier Muller.) "Astounding," is the word Doense uttered when Kamal went up to receive the honour, even as he appreciated the ethnicity of the film.

The citation also describes "Virumaandi" ``as a film that should easily appeal to audiences from all over the world.''

Nineteen Asian films were lined up for the competition. ``Worthy productions from Japan, the Philippines, China and Taiwan and about six films from Korea were in the race. From India we had `Raghu Romeo' and `Virumaandi'... '' Kamal informs.

Honour at Rotterdam

A year ago at the Rotterdam Film Festival, in the Netherlands, Kamal's best films that included "Hey! Ram," "Pushpak," "Nayagan," and "Kurudhi Punal" had been showcased under the category, Director in Focus. ``The Retrospective was a great honour in itself ... I couldn't go then because of some personal problems and somehow I didn't even mention it to anyone here. But at this fest in Korea they introduced me as `the actor-director from India who was featured as the Director in Focus at Rotterdam ... ,' " says Kamal Hassan.

Although "Virumaandi" did reasonably well at the box office, it was not what you would call a runaway hit ... ``No ... no ... commercially also `Virumaandi' made me happy,'' Kamal is quick to refute. ``I make the kind of films I want to, on my terms. And the best part is I have the public supporting the films I make with passion, and also my completely commercial flicks. So if I've had a `Moondram Pirai' that ran to packed houses there was also a masala fare, `Sakalakalavallavan' that did equally well. If they refused to watch and nurture the kind of films I have a penchant for I'd be sunk ... ,'' he tells you candidly. So the crowd that offered great support to "Virumaandi," should do the same for "Vasool Raja " ... "That's my hope," smiles Kamal.

Limelight matters

How important are awards to a veteran like him? "Very. The recognition for your work on any platform — local, national or international — is a tremendous boost. But your sustaining power depends solely on the verdict of the filmgoer. If Sivaji Ganesan was at the helm for 40 years, it was because the people wanted him there." The veracity of the observation cannot be disputed. And going by the benchmark, Kamal Hassan too has been ruling the roost for two decades and more now. ``Yet if tomorrow the man out there decides otherwise, I'll be out. So every film is a test ... ''

Has the veteran at any point been disappointed with the response his work has received? Kamal laughs, ``A singer of Balamurali Krishna's stature you feel would be happy about his stupendous achievements. So when I heard him sound disconcerted that his performing skill on the viola has not been widely accepted, I was surprised ... I suppose it happens.''

So what does this veteran feel dejected about? "Come to think of it, nothing. The press in general has been kind to me ... and I'm quite contented with my lot ... When others tell me that I would have won international acclaim if I had been in the West, I turn around and tell them, this is my place and I should win world renown from here ... with my kind of cinema.'' And Kamal Hassan is doing just that.

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